Ah, finally. Capping off a long and hopefully fruitful season, the South Carolina Gamecocks will make the torturous trip to the Upstate on Nov. 24 to face the much-hated Clemson Tigers. Things haven’t gone too well for the good guys in this series of late, with the Tigers currently holding a four-game winning streak, but as the state motto says, “While I breathe, I hope.”
Last meeting: In an unfortunate but also unsurprising result, the Gamecocks got steamrolled in Williams-Brice by the playoff participant Tigers in a 34-10 defeat that wasn’t as close as it appeared. South Carolina was clearly too emotional from the start, and after forcing an early Clemson punt, promptly turned the ball back over to the Tigers. From there, it was all Clemson, as the Tigers led 20-0 at halftime and the Gamecocks trailed 34-0 as late as the fourth quarter. South Carolina was able to do some damage against Clemson’s backups to make the final margin more respectable, but unfortunately, we all know what happened here.
(I’d also like to point out that the current Palmetto Bowl trophy is on some BS, since it was officially adopted in 2015 but somehow includes the Tigers’ win from 2014. How convenient.)
Last season: Despite missing star quarterback Deshaun Watson and losing other talent to the NFL and graduation, the Tigers hardly missed a beat en route to another ACC championship and College Football Playoff appearance. Clemson’s offense was clearly not the same, as quarterback Kelly Bryant was rather raw in the passing game, but the Tigers’ ferocious defense was more than enough to stake them to a 12-2 (7-1 ACC) record that included a third straight playoff bid as the No. 1 seed. (Even a shocking upset loss to woeful Syracuse couldn’t slow their momentum.) Eventual national champion Alabama got the best of the Tigers in a 24-6 semifinal defeat in the Sugar Bowl.
Player to watch out for: Clemson’s defensive line is frankly unfair, as Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, and Austin Bryant elected to spurn an early jump to the NFL and instead play another season in them there hills. Though the Tigers rose to prominence thanks to an explosive offense, it’s their defense that has really taken this program to a whole new level. Coordinator Brent Venables is getting approximately a zillion dollars to keep that unit rolling, and it’s hard to envision him ever getting hired away thanks to said zillion dollars. Aside from the defense, Clemson’s quarterback situation will be something to keep an eye on, as incumbent starter Bryant may not be able to hold off blue-chip recruit Trevor Lawrence (who broke some of Deshaun Watson’s high school records). The Tigers, unfortunately, have an embarrassment of riches.
Prognosis: As the preseason No. 2 in most polls, Clemson has been a slam-dunk pick to make yet another College Football Playoff appearance, and given the relative strength (or lack thereof) of the ACC, that certainly checks out. The Tigers have also been a trendy pick to not just meet Alabama for a fourth time in the national championship game, but to emerge victorious against the Tide. However, since this is a Gamecocks blog and therefore a safe space, I will not concede to such a prediction. I won’t deny that the Tigers will almost certainly make another CFP showing, but Lord willing, they will not win another national title.